Neil Rao

Student, Harvard Law School (2010-2013); Business Analyst, McKinsey & Company (2008-2010)

Grad Year: 2007

Other areas of sudy/degree(s):

Masters in Public Health (MPH, Spring '08)

Why I chose English Language and Literature

Enrolling at Michigan as an undergraduate, I intended to work  through the natural science curriculum, eventually applying to medical school.  Yet during my sophomore year, the luster of that path had faded. While I had  taken the MCAT and completed the required coursework for medical school  admissions, I decided to shift gears, instead pursuing a B.A. in English, as  well as applying for and gaining admission to the Masters in Public Health (MPH)  program, which I completed during my junior and senior years.

Choosing English at this juncture was simple, for a variety of  reasons. For one, enrolling in electives during my freshman and sophomore year  meant that I was closer to completing this degree than others. More  importantly, that exposure had shown me what the English department had to  offer; as compared to 700-student lectures for organic chemistry, an English  407 seminar during my freshman year had less than 15 students, creating a more  engaging learning environment and one I was excited to be part of.

Discovering an interest in the breadth of studying English  through these initial courses also helped convince me that my academic  curiosity would be satisfied, not siloed, if I proceeded toward an English  degree. The range of experiences I had going forward — from learning the  development of speech patterns in English 308 (History of the English Language)  to considering applications of game theory to readings of Henry James in  English 852 (Fictions of Finance) — proved that initial notion true. Not  enrolling in another natural science course after my sophomore year, I finished  two classes away from competing the Biology concentration and do not regret  leaving it that way.

Another decisive factor toward me choosing an English degree was  the opportunity to pursue an Honors thesis that would be flexible to my  interests. Finding synergies between my two main academic thrusts — English and  Public Health — the focus of my junior year was exploring the subject of news  media coverage of emerging infectious disease epidemics. With the guidance of  Professor Anne Curzan, the final product, “SARS: How the News Media Cause and  Cure and Epidemic of Fear,” remains a work that I’m proud of and is the output  of a process that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Last but not least, encounters outside of the classroom thanks  to my English degree added to my Michigan experience. In working with Professor  William (Buzz) Alexander, I joined other English concentrators in his English  310 course and the Prisoner Creative Arts Program; for two years, I spend my  Sunday mornings facilitating theatre and poetry workshops for incarcerated  juvenile offenders at a nearby state prison. My background in English also made  me a useful commodity elsewhere on campus, including working my way up to the  role of Editor-in-Chief for the Michigan  Journal of Political Science by my senior year. In this way, the benefits  that I realized from English courses were worth far more than simply completing  the major. Whether during work after undergrad or now as a law student,  aptitude for quick comprehension, incisive questioning, and cogent  argumentation has helped me immensely, and the English curriculum was critical  to me developing those skills.
My Academic and Career Paths

Time since graduation has yet to set me on a particular academic or career  path. Fortunately, the focus of my English degree was on gaining general  skills, applicable in any setting, and my experiences as an undergraduate have  served me well at each juncture thus far.

After graduating from Michigan with a B.A. in English (Fall ’07)  and a Masters in Public Health (MPH, Spring ’08), my following summer was in  Washington, D.C., as a Research Fellow at the O’Neill Institute for National  and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. At the end of the summer, I  relocated to Seattle, joining McKinsey & Company, a management consulting  firm, for their two-year Business Analyst program. This proved to be a  tremendous experience, as I became an “expert” on health systems and health  reform, working for major for-profit and non-profit hospital systems in the  United States, as well as Ministries of Health around the world.

With multiple options at the end of my tenure at McKinsey, I  began interviewing with private equity and venture capital firms, but switched  away from that focus midstream, recognizing the timing was more appropriate for  me to return to school. Reaching that conclusion, I realized that I still  wanted another educational experience and that it might be ‘now or never’ for  me to return to campus.

Laying out my options, medical, business, and law school were  all in play. Memories of undergrad convinced me to drop medical school.  Deciding between law and business was a longer process, but a series of actors  pushed me towards law school in the end, including having a longer period of  time to explore options for the future and having exposure to a very different  learning experience and community than the one I’d seen at McKinsey. After  going through the application process, I choose to enroll at Harvard Law as a  part of the Class of 2013. And while I’m still uncertain as to what will come  next, the foundation that helped make this possible — the skill set that I  gained at Michigan — will always be there.

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